Why do we hold freedom of speech to be so sacrosanct, but freedom of action to be limited to the moral majority?
By now everyone has seen that Arizona is considering legislation that would allow business owners to deny service to gay customers so long as they are acting solely on their religious beliefs. I support the bill; however, in my opinion the bill is too limited in scope. Private businesses should be allowed to deny service to anybody for any reason. Reasons include, but are not limited to customers are black, white, Jewish, Catholic, gay, straight, men over 50 years old wearing blue shirts on Tuesdays, tall pretty & blonde, or short with bulbous noses.
By now, many people reading this are outraged. What kind of jerk would legalize discrimination? I know that I stand alone in my position. Read on.
What kind of jerk am I?
- I believe in equal rights for everyone.
- I despise racism.
- I despise bigotry.
- I despise sexism.
- I judge people by the content of their character.
You also need to know something else about me. It is personal. I don’t like sharing this because I don’t like the judgments that often come with it. I do not believe in God. We can save the God debate for another day. For now, it is important that my critics don’t accuse me of harboring religious motivations behind my beliefs. Any law that requires religious justification is probably not one that I support.
Am I a victim of my race, gender, & sexuality? Perhaps. As a white straight male, I belong to category of people that is generally un-oppressed. Even further, I belong to category of people that has done their share of oppressing of others based on race, gender, and sexuality. It may be easier and safer for me to arrive at my position than a gay black woman, for example.
Now that we got that out of the way…
I support the proposed law in Arizona because I support freedom. Freedom without economic freedom is not freedom at all. Milton Friedman introduced this concept to me in Capitalism and Freedom. Many of us take for granted how economic freedom affects nearly every aspect of our lives. The power to own private property, decide what goods and services to purchase or not purchase (and at a what price), and to voluntarily enter into contracts is at the core of economic freedom.
When something is mine, I should have full discretion over what to do with it. I should be permitted to keep it, sell it, use it, eat it, destroy it, etc. Furthermore, if I choose to seek a transaction with another private citizen with my private property, then I should be permitted to decide with whom I want to transact with. If I decide that I only want to transact with Hasidic Jews, then that should be my right.
What are the implications of this kind of property rights freedom?
Individual Freedom = Maximized.
Each owner of private property is free to choose. Each owner can make a different decision from the next.
In the scenario where a government passes laws that require people to transact with each other, we are limiting the freedom of the private property owners. No other persons can have a claim to that private property or future transactions therewith. It is not possible to impinge upon the rights of anyone except the holder of the private property.
Further yet, sweeping government laws impose the morals of some of the people onto all the people. How many Liberals have accused others of imposing their morals onto everyone else? In this example, it is the Liberals (and many other Americans too) that are imposing their morals onto everyone else.
Government Power = Minimized.
We cannot overstate the benefits of limiting government power. Too many Americans, especially Liberals, are too willing to put power into the hands of the government to solve social problems. I really want to underscore how wrong this has proven for us. Trusting a government to organize society in a just & moral way is a fool’s bet; Crony capitalism, endless wars, government spying on citizens, TARP, auto bailouts, printing money out of thin air, $17 Trillion in debt are the byproducts of expanded government powers that followed so many of our good intentions. When will we learn that centralized power is corruptible, regardless of our original intentions?
Yes, a government needs to have basic laws that provide equal protection to everyone. This should not be confused with laws that compel private citizens to contract with each other. You can’t give the government the power to do good without also giving it the power to do bad. I am all about power to the people.
Economic. The goal of any business is to maximize profits. Any business willing to forego profit for bigotry is giving a competitive advantage to competitors. There will always be a competitor ready to take paying customers that were turned away elsewhere. Taking market share is a great way to knock poor performing competitors out of business.
Social. Free markets have a built in morality mechanism that don’t require a government decree. If a local business refuses to serve gays, then the success of that business will be correlated to the morality of the community that it serves. Consumers show their moral preferences with their wallets. A business will remain open or fold based on consumer preferences and the availability of other consumer choices that are more in line with consumer preferences. Indeed, under this scenario, we could find pockets of like-minded bigoted people organizing in communities across the country. Such is the risk of freedom. People are free to make their own choices with their own private property, even when those choices are not in line with mine and yours.
Be the change you wish to see.
There is no magic government law that will stamp out racism. This is done within society person to person. We need to influence others. We need to show the next generation that hate begets hate. And they will teach the next generation. Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
I would much rather live in a society in which I can look a business owner in the eyes and know what it in his heart. Instead I live in a society where people are compelled to behave in such a way that I cannot know what is truly in their heart.
…And what of the people that are bigoted, for example, but voluntarily choose to transact with the races that they despise? I say this is a victory. This is our proof that the free markets are influenced by morality. This is the embodiment of the change we wish to see in the world. And we accomplish this with maximum freedom and zero government mandates. Somewhere out there is a Libertarian nodding his head.
“The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.” –Milton Friedman
If you don’t believe that others should be free to make their own decisions, then maybe you don’t really believe in freedom at all. Or maybe it is not freedom that you object to. Maybe it is the idea that some people may use their freedom with their private property in such a way in which you disapprove. Your remedy for this is to create laws to limit their freedom such that their behavior is more in line with your own morality.
Giving power to the government to organize society based on the wishes of the moral majority leads to maladies far greater than our original ailment of ‘too much freedom’.
If you believe that we need government laws to impose your morality on the rest of us, then you need to be prepared that to demonstrate that reducing freedom in the name of social justice is a net benefit for society.
Your case may have been stronger in the 1960’s. Two generations later. It is time to give freedom a chance.